Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Orthodox Feminism Versus Normalcy

PM Netanyahu & a woman of the wall (Jerusalem Post) 
Anyone that knows even a little about the English language should understand that the word ‘fish’ can be spelled g-h-o-t-i. The question is why isn’t it spelled that way? It is perfectly legitimate way to spell it.

What’s that you say? You don’t see the word fish in ‘ghoti’? Well, it’s there. You’re just not thinking out of the box. ‘gh as in the word ‘cough’ ‘o’ as in the word ‘women’, and ‘ti’ as in the word ‘nation’.

See? Not that hard and quite legitimate. If it’s perfectly legitimate, then why not spell it that way… at least sometimes? After all variety is the spice of life. The answer is because it’s not normal. Most people wouldn’t necessary see anything but a word that starts with hard ‘g’ and sounds like a kind of beard.

I bring this up in the context of normalcy in Judaism. In my view it is important to be as normal as possible in society if for no other reason that it just makes us all easier to understand and get along. 

Which brings me to 21st century version of feminism that has infiltrated  Orthodoxy to such an extent that it places normalcy on its head.

The goal of feminism is to equalize men and women in every possible category. The only limitation is where it is a physical impossibility. And on the surface their argument makes sense. As long as there is no physical limitation, why not allow women to do anything a man can?

So now – as announced recently by Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter – we have the spectacle in America of allowing women to serve in combat positions together with men. As long as they pass the various military training programs. The argument goes, ‘Why not? As long as a woman can do what a man can do in battle, shouldn’t she have the same right to die for our country as men do?

Fair point. But what about men and women serving in the military living and sleeping in close proximity? Many of them are married and spend months at a time away from their spouses. Is there no fear that nature will take its course? 

It is also no secret that sexual harassment is up in the armed services. Is there no connection to the fact that they now serve together and are subject to a command structure that puts women subordinates at a tremendous disadvantage? Is this going to help matters?

And another thing. Let us take this argument to its logical conclusion. In theory one can have an entire battalion of women being sent to war zones like Syria (should the US decide to put boots on the ground there). And by the same token we could see men staying home taking care of the kids. Why not? There are  after all a lot of stay at home fathers. So, what the big deal if the women do the fighting and the men stay home? As long as all are willing?

Is this the kind of world we want to live in? Where in theory women do our fighting for us? I guess if you are a dyed in the wool feminist you are OK with that. But this is not in any way be normal. Should we change the way we live just because a few women think it’s OK. Even if the arguments they make are logical? 
Feminisits will argue that what is ‘normal’ today was not so normal not that long ago. Like the right for women to vote. Now it is taken for granted and very normal. We all got used to it. And we’ll get used to female armies - if that is how the military evolves. But is there no difference between a man and a woman except in some of their body parts? What about psychological gender differences? is there any dispute that there are psychological differences between men and women?

But feminists will argue that there are exceptions - why shouldn’t we accommodate them? Why not let people do whatever they want as long as they don’t hurt anyone else? 

The answer is that it does hurt someone else. It hurts those of us that do not want to change tradition just because there are some exceptions to the rule.

Orthodox feminists have been seduced to the draw of egalitarian argument. Wherever there is the slightest opening Halachicly for a woman to tread where she has never tread before, Orthodox feminists insist on it as a matter of egalitarian fairness and equality. That most Orthodox Jews (including most Orthodox women) might reject the idea as it applies to Judaism doesn’t matter to them. The egalitarian ideal is all that matters. 

Which brings me to a recent decision by the Prime Minister of Israel about the Women of the Wall (WoW). The status quo will remain and they will not be able to read from a  Torah scroll at the Kotel. Something they have been seeking for a long time. Although WoW is not an Orhtodox movement, there are some Orthodox women involved. And Orhtodox feminists see this is a blow to their goals.

It doesn’t matter to them that it upsets the sensibilities of the vast majority of Orhtodox Jews – both men and women who see this as an abnormal breach from tradition. For Wow and Orhtodox feminists it is a denial of what they consider a fundamental egalitarian right. Everyone else be damned!

It is probably true that this was a politically motivated move by the Prime Minister who is catering to the ultra-Orthodox factions of his coalition government. But it was the right call to respect the sensibilities of the vast majority of Jews that visit the Kotel and not to cater to a small group of women more inter4sted in their ‘rights’ than they are about how it upsets the religious women that pray at the Kotel the most. What was not the right call is how WoW charcterzied it. From the Jerusalem Post
Apparently when Netanyahu spoke of ‘all’ Jews in November 2015, he forgot that women make up half of all Jews,” WOW said. No Israeli Prime Minister has the right to take away Torah from half of all Jews…”  
This is one of the problems with 21st century feminism. They assume to be speaking for all women, when in fact they are speaking only for a very small group of women. The percentage of women that care about reading a Torah scroll at the Kotel is probably so  minuscule, you can probably count them on the fingers of one hand (OK, maybe both hands…an maybe you toes as well. Point being that they are a very small group.) 

The vast majority of Jewish women in the world will probably never visit the Kotel even once in their entire lives. For those that do,it is basically a tourist attraction. Most of them won’t have any interest in participating in a Torah reading at the Kotel (except maybe as a curiosity).

That said, it is probably also true that a many non feminist Orthodox women (and men) will say, just let them do it – even though they would not do it themselves. What’s the harm? Why make a mountain out of a molehill if the numbers are that small? Protests about it just gives them more publicity. The answer is that it is not normal and upsets the mainstream that frequents the Kotel - praying in traditional ways. Not to mention the fact that virtually all rabbinic leaders are opposed to it. (Not that this matters to WoW.)

What about those members of WOW that are sincere in wanting to serve God in this non-traditional way… a way that uplifts them spiritually in ways that traditional service to God does not?

But, even if that’s true should they have the right to do it at the expense of someone else’s comfort? Is this the only way they can be uplifted? Is there no other avenue for a woman to express her devotion to God? Do they feel that God’s mandated role for them is not enough? Do they feel that God short-changed them? 

I happen to believe that God did not short change women in the role He has given them. Maybe the women that do feel shortchange spiritually - being denied their ‘right’ to read a Torah scroll should speak to the other women that pray regularly at the Kotel and see why they are uplifted without that ‘right’. Maybe they will learn something.